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5 Major Ways Self-Driving Cars Will Change Our World

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author photo by Russ Heaps May 2016

With all the resources carmakers are pouring into developing self-driving cars, it's difficult to imagine highways not crawling with them at some point in the future. But their inevitability, no matter how likely it may seem, isn't guaranteed. We're talking here about autonomous vehicles (AVs) that can go anywhere without any driver input beyond setting a destination. There's still a long way to go before all the puzzle pieces required for true self-driving fall into place.

But if we do find ourselves in a world where honest-to-gosh self-driving vehicles zip from place to place, things will change -- some dramatically. These changes will reach beyond personal driving habits, touching all corners of our lives.

What kinds of changes are we talking about? Some may seem rather obvious, but others might surprise you.

Ticktock

When it comes to time, most of us are our own worst enemy. At one point or another, we all wish there were more hours in the day.

Think about the average amount of time you spend driving every day. AVs can transform those minutes or hours spent slogging through traffic into time for productivity or leisure. You could use those reclaimed hours to check the kids' homework, catch up on some reading, shave, apply makeup, answer emails, teach yourself the harmonica -- virtually anything you can think of. AVs would extend your day and allow you to do more of the things you want or need to get done.

Free at Last

For those who think of car ownership as a burden, AVs could springboard car sharing from a novelty to a commonplace: Automakers would be able to run their own car-sharing fleets; in fact, BMW has already announced plans to begin such a service. AVs would certainly make these manufacturer-supported projects no-brainers.

Think about being free of your car payment, your monthly credit card charges for gasoline, your insurance premium and all the other hassles involved with owning a car. If these realities give you more stress than you feel they're worth, you could simply opt out of them -- without having to give up access to a car when you need it.

Blame Game

In theory, accidents will be few and far between on highways where vehicles communicate with one another, seeing and sensing everything. But things happen, and accidents will occur. AVs will necessitate a huge shift in car insurance and assessing blame in those collisions.

Today, if you doze off while driving and T-bone a van filled with people, your financial future might well be in jeopardy -- not so in an AV world. In fact, you'll be expected to sleep, knit or work on a crossword puzzle while behind the wheel. You may not even be behind the wheel at all. Carmakers, software providers and others will battle it out to assign liability in a collision, while insurance carriers will have to completely rethink how and with whom they do business in a reality where the driver is blameless.

Park It

Have you ever avoided going someplace because of parking hassles? Maybe it was a concert, the mall or a ball game. Maybe you've put off going to the supermarket because you didn't want to walk the length of the parking lot for a half-gallon of milk. Looking for a parking spot eats up both time and fuel. And of course, there are those of us who don't possess the parallel-parking skill set.

AVs will relieve us of the stress of parking: They'll be able to drop us off at the curb, find a spot, park themselves and retrieve us when summoned.

Econ 101

Prices go down when costs go down. Pretty simple, right? Well, AVs may help make many of the things we buy more affordable.

Imagine fleets of self-driving trucks moving products around and delivering them where they need to be exactly the moment they need to be there. Whether it's a shipment of groceries, designer sneakers or even other cars, suddenly finished products and the materials to make them become less expensive to transport. Reduced labor, fuel and logistics costs will help drive down prices at the cash register.

What it means to you: More than simply freeing us from the task of driving, you can hold out hope that the advent of self-driving cars will increase convenience and quality of life across the board.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
5 Major Ways Self-Driving Cars Will Change Our World - Autotrader